Otago: Across a number of faiths and cultures, people tend to date and marry others who share their religious beliefs. Now, University of Otago psychology research suggests this phenomenon—known as ‘religious homogamy’—is partially a result of inferences about religious people’s personalities.
The researchers measured how religious and
non-religious individuals perceive the ‘openness’—a primary dimension of
personality associated with intellectual curiosity—of potential
religious and non-religious mates. They found that non-religious
participants in particular associated religious behaviour with less
openness, and that this inference led them to devalue religious
individuals as romantic partners.
In one experiment, religious
and non-religious participants decided whether or not they would date
forty possible romantic partners who varied in how frequently they
attended religious services. The research team discovered that
non-religious participants found potential partners less desirable, and
also less open to new experience, as their religious behaviour
In a second study, participants judged potential
partners who attended religious services frequently or infrequently,
some of whom also disclosed that they were open to new experiences (with
statements such as “I don’t pretend my ethical perspective is the only
one”). Non-religious participants preferred non-religious partners, and
also those who were open to new experiences, while religious
participants showed the opposite preferences. What’s more, the
same-religiosity bias was reduced when a partner revealed he or she was
open to experience.
Further analysis suggested that religious
and non-religious participants evaluate the same ‘open’ behaviours
differently. That is, there was agreement that non-religious individuals
are relatively open-minded, but not on whether being open-minded is a
Professor Jamin Halberstadt, one of the study’s
authors, says that the experiments provide insight into one possible
personality mechanism behind religious in-group dating bias. “They
illustrate, for the first time, that people’s decision to partner with
religious or non-religious individuals can be determined by personality
traits that religiosity is believed—rightly or wrongly—to predict,
rather than religion itself.”
The research is newly published
in the international journal Social Psychological and Personality
Science. The corresponding author is Joshua Jackson, now at the
University of Maryland and the other co-authors are Otago PhD graduate
Jonathan Jong of the University of Oxford, and Hillel Felman, an
independent researcher and graduate of New York University.
This research was supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Marsden Fund, and a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.